Allied aviators who bailed out over occupied territory and successfully returned to the UK had to answer a lot of questions when they got back to their bases. The engineers, for instance, wanted to know what had happened to their aircraft. Intelligence officers wanted to know about conditions on the ground in continental Europe. And a small unit, whose mission it was to assist POWs and evaders, wanted to know exactly how the evader had made it back home.

When asked what advice they would give to other evaders, some said to do everything your helpers told you to do out of respect for the danger the helpers were putting themselves into for your sake. Others said that helpers tended to get too fond of “their Americans” and want them to stay until the invasion (whenever that would be). These impatient aviators recommended moving on despite the helpers’ advice. They also advised against giving out the passport photos airmen sometimes carried as souvenirs because they might be needed for false documents later. (Although they might as well have given them away, most of the photos that airmen carried were the wrong size or the wrong degree of formality and therefore useless in false documents.)

Evaders also recommended traveling alone rather than in a group; avoiding travel at night when the curfew made anyone on the roads suspect, and jumping off moving trains from the right side of the train. Many of the evaders mentioned that German soldiers didn’t seem to see aviators very well. Time and again, Germans patrolled past airmen squatting behind a tree or lying behind three measly rows of beans without discovering them.

The top advice of all successful evaders, however, was not to give up your GI shoes or flying boots because you think they’re too conspicuous. Dye your boots black, they advised, because French shoes were too small and had soles made out of cardboard. French shoes were wholly inadequate to climbing the Pyrenees in any weather and made escape into Spain even more difficult than it already was. Dutch and Belgian shoes wouldn’t have been any better and may have been worse. None of the evaders put it quite this way, but to a man they all implied that it would have been better to have been caught by the Germans because you were wearing good boots than to have crossed the continent and the Pyrenees in wartime European shoes.

Of course the escape and evasion reports that I read were all written by men who had made it across the Pyrenees without their GI footwear, so their advice on the matter may have had more to do with frostbite and regret than safety.